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Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Comparison of Gertrude and Ophelia

Hamlet — Comparison of Gertrude and Ophelia

Gertrude and Ophelia occupy the leading roles for females in the Shakespearean drama Hamlet. As women they share many things in common: attitudes from others, shallow or simple minds and outlooks, etc. This essay will delve into what they have in common.

The protagonist’s negative attitude toward both women is an obvious starting point. John Dover Wilson explains in What Happens in Hamlet how the prince holds both of the women in disgust:

The difficulty is not that, having once loved Ophelia, Hamlet ceases to do so. This is explained, as most critics have agreed, by his mother’s conduct which has put him quite out of love with Love and has poisoned his whole imagination. The exclamation “Frailty thy name is woman!” in the first soliloquy, we come to feel later, embraces Ophelia as well as Gertrude, while in the bedroom scene he as good as taxes his mother with destroying his capacity for affection, when he accuses her of

such an act

That blurs the grace and blush of modesty,

Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose

From the fir forehead of an innocent love

And sets a blister there.

Moreover, it is clear that in the tirades of the nunnery scene he is thinking almost as much of his mother as of Ophelia. (101)

Other critics agree that both women are recipients of Hamlet’s ill-will. In the Introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet, David Bevington enlightens the reader regarding the similarities between Gertrude and Ophelia as the hero sees them:

Yet to Hamlet, Ophelia is no better than another Gertrude: both are tender of heart but submissive to the will of importunate men, and so are forced into uncharacteristic vi…

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… “An Approach to Hamlet.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet. Ed. David Bevington. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968. Rpt. from An Approach to Hamlet. Stanford, CT: Stanford University Press, 1961.

Pennington, Michael. “Ophelia: Madness Her Only Safe Haven.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from “Hamlet”: A User’s Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.

Pitt, Angela. “Women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Excerpted from Shakespeare’s Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995.

Wilson, John Dover. What Happens in Hamlet. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Essay on Shelley’s Frankenstein and Milton’s Paradise Lost

Shelley’s Frankenstein and Milton’s Paradise Lost

Even upon first glance, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Milton’s Paradise Lost seem to have a complex relationship, which is discernible only in fractions at a time. Frankenstein is Mary Shelley’s reaction to John Milton’s epic poem, in which he wrote the Creation myth as we perceive it today. His characterizations of Adam and Eve and the interactions of Satan and God and the impending Fall seem to have almost taken a Biblical proportion by themselves. By the time that Mary Shelley read Paradise Lost, it was indeed a stalwart in the canon of English Literature, so it should not come as a surprise to the reader the it should play such a large part in her construction of the Frankenstein myth, which has become an archetypal ghost story on its own. What makes each of these narratives so fascinating to the reader is the author/authoresses’ innate ability to use the ultimate struggle — that between God and Satan (or Good and Evil) — which in turn involves the reader in a most personal manner. The characters in Paradise Lost, which is chronologically first, and Frankenstein, seem to appear over and over as aspects of themselves and other characters. The essence of these characters is on the surface relatively bland, but when aspects of Satan start to enter Man and they reconfigure each other, the interest picks up rapidly.

Shelley’s use of these characters is drastically different than that of Milton. Mary Shelley was a product of the 19th Century, when Romanticism, the Gothic Aesthetic, and Science took the forefront of Western Culture. Milton’s era was different: there was little secularization, and religious change was everywhere as the Protestant …

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Elledge, Scott, ed. Paradise Lost. By John Milton. 1674. New York: Norton, 1993.

Fish, Stanley. “Discovery as Form in Paradise Lost.” Elledge 526-36.

Ide, Richard S. “On the Uses of Elizabethan Drama: The Revaluation of Epic in Paradise Lost.” Milton Studies 17 (1983): 121-37.

Martindale, Charles. John Milton and the Transformation of Ancient Epic. London: Croom Helm, 1986.

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley. Her Life, her Fiction, her Monsters. Methuen. New York, London, 1988.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Elledge 3-304.

Shawcross, John T. “The Hero of Paradise Lost One More Time.” Patrick and Sundell 137-47.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. Edited with an Introduction and notes by Maurice Hindle. Penguin books, 1992

Steadman, John M. Milton’s Biblical and Classical Imagery. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1984.

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